Yes, there are lots and lots of respirators out there. But how do you know if you need to wear one, and if you do, how do you know which one to chose?


The first step is to know what your exposed to and how much exposure you have. But where to start?

  • Some dangerous inhalants, such as lead or methylene chloride, have their own OSHA standard. If you or your employees are exposed to these, the OSHA standard will provide specific guidance.
  • When you or your workers notice odors, irritants or experience trouble breathing, you must figure out the source and find the best way to eliminate or reduce exposure.
  • If your workplace has fumes, dust, aerosols or other visible emissions, you must evaluate the need for protection.

Once you know what airborne contaminants exist in your workplace, assess your exposure compared to the permissible exposure limit for the contaminant. Exposures above the limit require action.


There are many different types of respirators and multiple factors to consider when selecting the right one. Things such as the physical work environment, employee health limitations and individual comfort should influence selection. You want to select a mask you or your employee can actually wear when doing the work.


Different types of respirators fall into 2 basic categories:

  • Air-Purifying Respirators; Dust Mask, Half Masks, Full Facepiece, and Powered Air Purifying
  • Air-Supplying Respirators; Supplied Air, and Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus
Many air-purifying respirators require cartridges designed to filter out specific contaminants. Effective protection will require the right respirator/cartridge combination.


Once you select the appropriate respirator, the next step is to ensure it fits. We all come in different shapes and sizes and therefore so do respirators and masks.


Before using your respirator you must complete both a medical evaluation and fit test.



In addition, your employer must have a written respiratory protection plan. Employees must be trained prior to using a respirator and at least annually. Training should include the need for respiratory protection, proper fit, use, storage and maintenance, what to do in emergencies, and how to recognize medical conditions which may limit effectiveness of the respirator.


Now that you have the basics, what’s next?